Overcoming Worry and Anxiety
Worry is always with us, but the lived experience of anxiety is often complex, embarrassing and hard to explain. What follows is a short extract from my latest book entitled Overcoming Worry and Anxiety. The book, due to be published August 21st 2014, is widely available for pre-order in both paperback and eBook formats.
During the years of great depression it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who famously commented, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ The context and the timing of his remark were important. Fear is a universal emotion that varies in range, frequency and severity, and it can be helpful or unhelpful. In normal circumstances the relationship between fear and threat tend to correspond – as the threat level increases, so does the fear.
People with anxiety-related issues live fearful lives because one of the commonest problems they experience is an overestimation of threat, but in circumstances and situations that are usually commonplace and harmless. They also tend to predict the worst by overestimating their own fear response and underestimating their ability to cope. According to Professor Stanley J. Rachman, a leading authority in anxiety and related disorders, similar patterns of behavior are found in people who suffer from panic episodes. More often than not they will predict a panic attack when in fact none occurs. Despite clear evidence pointing to the unreliability of such predictions, the tendency to predict panic and the associated feelings of fear remain unchanged.
Fear is a combination of dread, physiological changes and a strong desire to avoid or escape. It is both a reaction and a motivating force. Fear may be rational, as in behavior designed to avoid injury or trauma, or it may be irrational, as is the case in most phobias.
The over-prediction of fear is closely linked to avoidance behavior common in worry. You may have been trying out some ideas for getting an edge over your worries, but one important area of worry we need to tackle is the thorny issue of uncertainty.
One of the reasons you worry is that you hate uncertainty. It’s that niggling doubt that keeps your worries alive. Worrying helps to reduce the sense of uncertainty by fuelling your imagination. You work out different scenarios and different outcomes in your mind, and this gives you a sense of predictability and control.
Unfortunately a sense of certainty is not the same as certainty. The fact that you might be able to say: ‘I knew it. I told you so’ on a very few occasions does not mean that your capacity to worry is synonymous with foresight. Worry will never change the outcome of something and neither will it make it any more certain.